views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Morir Soñando
The Blue Elephant Theatre
7th November 2016



Photography provided by the Blue Elephant Theatre

To paraphrase the wisdom of modern pop, when haters hate hate hate, just shake, shake, shake it off. At least, I think that's roughly the message behind Morir Soñando. In this 35-minute contribution to the Elefeet Dance Festival, a lone dancer (Titilayo Adebayo) slowly finds her rhythm and the sheer joy of that movement when three other women (Samantha Ceriani, Larren Jeffries and Alice Seager) fiercely wrestle it away from her. The piece becomes a constant power struggle between the Dominican form and outside influences, with the original dancer eventually reclaiming her identity and shaking off the opposing forces. And you thought Taylor wasn't deep. Seriously - shake it off.

Stephanie Peña's intriguing choreography is based on Dominican national dance merengue with plenty of fluid hip rolls and frenetic movement where the dancers' feet shuffle around, almost chained together and rarely lifting up from the ground. When Adebayo first explores the traditional dance, her small but assured movements get bigger and bolder and her body begins to occupy more and more space, with the light growing in intensity to match. Lighting designer Rebecca Craig plays with the shadows imaginatively here, magicking up companions for Adebayo to dance with and share the happiness. The soundscape grows louder and more cheerful with Adebayo quickly surrendering to the sheer freedom of the dance, with her shadowy silhouette clones creating the illusion of an enthusiastic merengue dancing crowd sharing the moment with her.

Ceriani, Jeffries and Seager look solemn throughout the piece, their expressions rarely varying from serious and closed. Adebayo on the other hand gives more away, her expression changing from joy to confusion and betrayal before circling back round. This deliberate lack of visible emotions for the others leaves us unsure whether they are real or part of a nightmare haunting Adebayo's character, with even the title of the piece lending itself to ambiguity. The classic Dominican drink Morir Soñando literally means "die dreaming" and with a blood-curdling scream half way through the piece, we wonder how much of the production is indeed grounded in reality and how much in fantasy. As for the sequences, there are so many ways in which you could interpret them from a simple exploration of self-identity to a more aggressive statement on cultural appropriation. It certainly leaves you in a reflective mood.

Lead dancer Adebayo dresses in a simple white lace tunic, contrasted against the trio of outsiders in earthy brown and black colours. The dancers' outfits are simple but imbued with meaning, pitting one against the rest. Ceriani, Jeffries and Seager frequently mimic each other's moves as well as their own costumes, at times almost one body moving in perfect sync.

At all times never less than intriguing and full of honest, raw and beautifully fluid movement, Morir Soñando is a welcome entry into the Elefeet Dance Festival. The energy and enthusiasm behind it is clear, as demonstrated in Peña's ability to persuade her audience to join her performers on the floor and dance like no one's watching. Pena's ability to inject a touch of modernity into traditional dance and blend it with storytelling makes for a fascinating half hour.

Morir Sonando opened on 7th November and runs until 8th November at the Blue Elephant Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Oval (Northern)

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